Bihar Election 2020: At virtual rally, JDU chief Nitish Kumar takes aim at 'ignorant' critics; same old record, says RJD
Nitish Kumar's rally comes amid months-long tiff with the JD(U)'s fellow National Democratic Alliance constituent the Lok Janshakti Party.
Kicking off the election campaign for the Bihar Assembly polls through his first virtual election rally on Monday, Bihar chief minister and Janata Dal (United) president Nitish Kumar highlighted his government's successes in the battle against the coronavirus , touted its achievements over the past 15 years compared to the previous regimes and took aim at "ignorant" critics.
Kumar's rally, which began at 11.30 am via the party's digital platform jdulive.com (launched on 2 September) was earlier scheduled to be held last Sunday but was rescheduled due to the week-long mourning following the death of former president Pranab Mukherjee on 31 August.
Kumar's rally comes amid months-long tiff with the JD(U)'s fellow National Democratic Alliance (NDA) constituent the Lok Janshakti Party. Kumar's decision to join hands with former chief minister Jitan Ram Manjhi, a Dalit leader like the Paswans, with a history of targeting the LJP, has only added fuel to the fire.
Manjhi's Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) in a surprise move on 2 September joined the NDA after quitting the Bihar Grand Alliance on 20 August and dealing a blow to the Opposition's hopes of toppling the Kumar-led NDA.
The LJP, whose face is Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan, is currently holding a crucial meeting of its Bihar leaders to decide whether to fight against the JD(U) in the upcoming state Assembly polls likely in October or November.
Kumar began by citing all the steps his government had taken to control the coronavirus , saying it had worked towards protecting the people of the state amid the pandemic.
"In March, we decided to conduct 20,000 tests every day and today, the state government is testing over 1,50,000 samples per day," Kumar claimed.
"The state is conducting 11,350 RT-PCR tests but aim to reach 20,000 tests soon. The Centre will provide 10 RT PCR machines to the state government to increase its COVID-19 testing capacity," Kumar further said.
According to official records, Bihar, the country's third-most populous state, witnessed 1,797 new infections on Sunday pushing its caseload to 1,47,657 and four fresh fatalities, which took its toll to 754. Patna alone account for 15 percent of the cases total cases.
Reports, however, have emerged of the state's healthcare system, overburned before the pandemic struck, being on the verge of collapse with shortages of medicine and manpower. As per a report in The Wire, a majority of government officials and politicians who have contracted COVID-19 chose AIIMS-Patna for treatment rather than any government-funded hospitals.
On 24 August, the Centre announced that PM CARES would fund two dedicated COVID hospitals in Patna and Muzaffarpur, a move the Opposition decried as "too little too late". “It is too little too late. At the same time, why have they not included areas like Champaran and Kosi. I would say it is a case of bad optics and poor planning,” RJD MP Manoj Jha told The Print.
As per The Hindu, Kumar emphasised the steps taken to aid migrant workers during the lockdown and the facilities provided during the 14-day quarantine. “The government spent ₹5,300 on each quarantine person,” Kumar claimed.
“But some people keep on criticising us because they are ignorant.. if such works have been done in other places it must have got lot publicity… a lot of work has been done in the state in last 15 years… how much I tell you,” [sic] Kumar said, as per The Hindu.
Listing the government's assistance for flood victims in Bihar, Kumar said as per News18, "Farmers suffered huge losses in February, March and April. Over five lakh people were evacuated to shelter homes and public kitchens were made to support and feed them. The situation is improving now," Kumar said.
A senior RJD leader, speaking to The Hindu, said, “Kumar only played old records of his speeches... it was all compiled to be aired in one go about his government’s achievements in the last 15 years comparing to 15 years of our RJD regime. But he shrewdly avoided mentioning where Bihar stands today in comparison to other states. People know who does what and for whom. Our government gave voice to the voiceless”.
The Indian Express reported that the RJD, the main Opposition in the state, has dubbed the state government's efforts an “an absolute sham” and questioned whether the Rs 962 crore disbursed actually even reached the public.
RJD chief Tejashwi Yadav, meanwhile, has made flood-hit areas a special focus and has accused the state government of abandoning the public to face the the coronavirus , economic stress and the flood, as per the report.
Bihar has seen over 83 lakh people affected by the floods in 16 districts, including 20.82 lakh in Darbhanga, 19.69 lakh in Muzaffarpur, and 4.15 lakh in Gopalganj. Twenty-seven people have lost their lives due to the calamity. The state has sought compensation of Rs 3,328 crore from the Union government.
Allies at odds
This virtual rally comes just a day after LJP chief Chirag Paswan in a scathing letter to the chief minister, slammed his decision to provide government jobs to the kin of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes community members who were killed, and called it "nothing but an election-related announcement".
Chirag accused Kumar of not fulfilling earlier promises made to SCs and STs, including giving them three dismil of land. The LJP president said that "if the Nitish Kumar government is sincere", it should give jobs to a family member of all those from the communities who were killed during its 15-year rule. The JD(U) has also made it clear that it will not hold any seat-sharing talks with the LJP, as its ties have been traditionally with the BJP.
Could history repeat itself?
In 2005, the LJP fought against the RJD in the Bihar Assembly polls, even though both regional parties were part of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre. The LJP put up candidates against the RJD while maintaining its ties with the Congress.
This had led to the formation of a hung Assembly, ending Lalu Prasad Yadav's RJD's 15-year rule and another Assembly poll held a few months later saw the Nitish Kumar-led JD(U) and BJP alliance storming to power with their maiden majority.
Meanwhile, the Congress on Monday has accused the BJP, of politicising the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput, terming it a new low in Indian politics.
Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala condemned the party and said Rajput's death was being politicised to deflect attention from the problems faced by the people in Bihar. "This is a new low in the new India of BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi," Surjewala said at a virtual press conference.
He alleged that Bihar was ravaged by floods and reeling under acute misery with the government having "abdicated its responsibility".
The Bihar elections are seen as a crucial test for the BJP, which has, since 2018, faced stinging losses at the state level, most notable the Jharkhand and Delhi polls in 2019 and 2020. The BJP was also unable to form the Maharashtra government despite emerging as the single-largest party and its best efforts.
The Election Commission is likely to announce the schedule for the Bihar polls sometime this month.
Polls to the 243-seat Assembly are likely to be held in October and November.
With inputs from PTI
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